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A new Heritage Decree (2017) related to moveable heritage streamlines procedures and implementation of cultural policy. New heritage priorities have also been set for the period 2019 to 2023.


In 2017, a new Flemish Act on Socio-Cultural Work for Adults will promote activities that are linked to personal development, social inclusion, active citizenship, and much more.

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Belgium/ 5.2 Legislation on culture  

Flemish Community

Since the 1990s, Flanders has been working on a thorough restructuring of the legislation on culture. Important principles are:

  • changing as many regulations into Flemish Parliament Acts as possible. Parliament Acts are suggested by the government or the Flemish Parliament and submitted for approval to the Flemish Parliament;
  • combating the disintegration of regulation as much as possible, also in view of a more coherent, integrated cultural policy. Good examples are the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts, the Flemish Parliament Act on Heritage and the Flemish Parliament Act Concerning Socio-Cultural Work for Adults;
  • the system of subsidising organisations over the longer term, which was already implemented for several sectors, has become a common principle for most of the cultural sector. The system is based on the policy plans of the organisations funded, which are also regularly updated and evaluated. In addition, project-based subsidies are also possible; and
  • the last and current policy terms (2009-2014) saw a thorough revisioning of the main sectoral Flemish Parliament Acts -- the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts , the Heritage Flemish Parliament Act, and the Flemish Parliament Act concerning Socio-cultural Work for Adults). These Flemish Parliament Acts have a number of recurring principles in common: a more explicit and knowledge-based strategic framework for decision-making, the combination of multi-annual structural funding and project funding, a ‘functional’ approach, the identification of sectoral supporting organisations (‘steunpunten’), etc.

Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts

A first Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts was adopted on the 2nd April 2004. For the first time, there was an integrated approach to all arts forms (excluding film and literature, which are regulated by funds), since this Flemish Parliament Act replaced all former Flemish Parliament Acts and regulations addressing various art forms: performing arts, music, visual and audiovisual arts, architecture, design, new media and all hybrid art forms.

In 2008, small amendments were made to the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts, aimed at making it more transparent, to optimise its implementation and to reduce the administrative burden on arts organisations and individual artists.

In December 2013, a new (second) Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts was voted, which contains a number of more far reaching innovations:

  • A strategic framework as a basis. At the start of each policy term, the Minister of Culture presents a Strategic Vision Note for the Arts to the Flemish Parliament, as a basis for future policy decisions. Flanders Arts Institute provides the basis for this document, with a Landscape Sketch for the Arts.
  • A function-oriented approach to the art landscape. In their applications, arts organisations can flexibly opt for different functions (development, production, presentation, participation, reflection) and disciplines (music, performing arts, visual/audiovisual arts, architecture/design, transdisciplinary arts).
  • Supporting organisations. Flanders Arts Institute is responsible for research/monitoring/field analysis, professional development and international relations development. Kunstenloket provides juridic/administrative support, and Vlaams Architectuurinstituut (VAi) supports the culture of architecture.
  • An adjustment of the assessment system. A more flexible approach to peer/expert evaluation, on the basis of a large ‘pool’ of assessors, with an expertise in the abovementioned functions and/or disciplines. 
  • A revaluation of project subsidization: in the past project funding was limited to one year projects. In the new Flemish Parliament Act, projects can last up till three years.
  • An impulse policy for new initiatives: the Flemish Parliament Act introduces new instruments to support the internationalisation of the arts and the distribution of the arts in Flanders.
  • A complementary policy with other governments. A protocol provides the outline for the future dialogue between the Flemish and the local policy level concerning the support for different types of art organisations, in order to foster collaboration.

The new Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts offers five year funding for various types of arts organisations next to (multi-annual) project grants for artists and organisations. The instruments for funding are:

  • Grants for artists: short term grants and longer term grants (max: 3 years, only for established artists). These allow for the research and development of new ideas, residencies abroad or reflection about one’s career.
  • Project subsidies for artists or organisations: for projects limited in time (max: 3 years) or scope (in terms of functions and disciplines).
  • Multi-annual funding for arts organisations (five years) which opt for one or a combination of more functions and/or disciplines (cf supra).
  • Art Institutions: Art institutions are large-scale initiatives with national and international appeal and an important symbolic value. These are the permanent structures of the art field with a structural link with the Flemish community. The Flemish Government determines which organizations may submit a recognition application. A commission advises the minister on recognition. This advice is based on the conditions set out in the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts. A recognized organization may apply for a five year grant. The Flemish Community concludes a management agreement with these institutions. In the period 2014-2019, these are the Art Institutions of the Flemish Community: Concertgebouw Brugge, deSingel, two symphonic orchestras ‘Antwerp Symphony Orchestra’ and ‘Brussels Philharmonic’, Kunstencentrum Vooruit, Kunsthuis Vlaanderen (Opera Flanders and Ballet Flanders) and Ancienne Belgique.

Next to these ‘basic instruments’, several other instruments provide impulses to the internationalisation of the arts, the distribution of the arts in Flanders, and entrepreneurship.

The Flemish Parliament Act was slightly amended on 25 February 2015.

Flemish Parliament Act on Cultural Heritage

Since the late 1990s, different new decrees were introduced in the domain of cultural heritage: the Archive Decree (19/7/2002), the Heritage Decree (7/05/2004), the Decree of Popular Culture (27/10/1998). In 2008 these decrees were integrated into a new umbrella Decree on the Development, Organisation and Funding of Flemish Cultural Heritage, also called the Cultural Heritage Decree (23 May 2008). In 2012 this Decree was updated (6/7/2012).

Administrative changes, the wish to streamline procedures in cultural policy and implementation of new policy priorities led to the development of a new Cultural Heritage Decree, approved in the Flemish Parliament on 24 February 2017. The Cultural Heritage Decree deals only with movable and intangible heritage (oral history, traditions, rites …). The policy for immovable heritage (monuments, landscapes and archaeological sites) is issued through other decrees.

Some elements of the Cultural Heritage Decree of 6 July 2012 were retained, such as the quality label for museums, archives and heritage libraries. In addition, there are a number of innovations, with a striking similarity with the above-mentioned Art Decree.

  • First, there are administrative changes which impact the relationship between the different government levels. As of 1 January 2018, the provinces lose their cultural competence and are no longer involved in the cultural heritage policy. With the cities, municipalities and the Flemish Community Commission (VGC), a new agreement is made on how they become involved in the implementation of the decree.
  • Second, the decree introduces for the first time a Strategic Vision Note for Cultural Heritage. On 31 March 2017, Minister Sven Gatz presented this note to the Flemish Government. This paper sets out policy priorities for the period 2019 to 2023. The policy has four main priorities: reinforcing art and heritage collections in Flanders; linking tangible heritage such as art works and manuscripts with intangible heritage such as traditions and practices; more co-operation between different branches of the cultural-heritage sector; and broader and more diverse participation.
  • Finally, the new Cultural Heritage Decree introduces functions and roles as important new concepts. These form the basis of the subsidisation.
  • A function is defined as a basic task in the cultural heritage work. The four basic functions of the previous decree are updated and expanded into five functions: recognizing and collecting; conservation and management; research; presentation; participation.
  • A role relates to a specific service task or cluster of services that an organisation takes up to support (the functions of) other cultural heritage organisations or communities.  Possible roles are not fixed in the decree. This will keep openness to respond to new evolutions and needs in the field. At the start of a subsidy period, the “Strategic Vision Note for Cultural Heritage” defines a series of thematic priorities for the development of the heritage field. Some examples for the current term are: agricultural and industrial heritage, religious heritage, crafts, popular culture and family history (local history and genealogy), artistic heritage with special attention to visual arts archives and artists' statues (heritage of artists), data policy for museums, ...

These are the main instruments of the new Cultural Heritage Decree:

  • Quality label. Collection based organizations (museums, cultural archives or heritage libraries) which meet minimal quality standards can be recognized by the Flemish Community.
  • Cultural Heritage Institutions. A number of organizations with a high level of performance, with an appearance, scale, range and relevance at national and international level, can be recognized and funded as (large) 'cultural heritage institutions'.

Topstukkendecreet ("Masterpiece Decree")

The Flemish Parliament Act Concerning the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage of Exceptional Significance of 24 January 2003 - the so-called Masterpiece Flemish Parliament Act - is about the protection of the most important movable cultural heritage because of its special archaeological, historical, cultural, artistic or scientific significance. A shortlist has been drawn, listing rare and invaluable masterpieces in Flanders to which the "Topstukkendecreet" has been applied. For these protected masterpieces and exceptional collections, conservation and restoration grants can be requested. The Flemish Parliament Act also includes regulations concerning the exportation of major works (out of the Flemish Community) and a purchase obligation by the Flemish government in case of denial of an export license. The Council for the preservation of movable cultural heritage advises the Minister about the shortlist of masterpieces.

Participation Flemish Parliament Act

The Participation Flemish Parliament Act entered into force on the 1 January 2008 (with amendments made in 2014). It provides a policy framework for explicit participation initiatives to facilitate access to culture, aimed at:

  • people in poverty;
  • prisoners;
  • disabled people;
  • people with an ethnic-cultural diversified background; and
  • families with children.

This Flemish Parliament Act offers:

  • policy instruments to stimulate the participation of the various groups;
  • subsidies for projects that encourage participation. This particularly concerns initiatives related to socio-cultural work, communication, circulation and dissemination of artworks, financial obstacles, and physical access. Longitudinal scientific research into cultural participation is also important for the policy.

Circus Flemish Parliament Act

The Circus Flemish Parliament Act (21 November 2008) aims at the optimal development of the circus arts in Flanders. To achieve this, the Flemish Parliament Act wants to:

  • support the creation, distribution, promotion and professionalisation of the circus arts in Flanders;
  • encourage and promote a diversified supply of circus arts throughout Flanders; and
  • develop an integrated and sustainable Flemish policy on the circus arts.

The Circus Flemish Parliament Act subsidises the creation of Flemish circus arts productions, subsidises the dissemination of Flemish circus arts productions, funds education and training of circus artists, and subsidises the support and promotion of circus arts.

Flemish Parliament Act concerning Social-Cultural Work for Adults (5 May 2017).

During the 1999-2003 legislature, the Flemish Government considered culture as a central issue for the development of individuals and society. With its cultural policy, it created conditions that ‘must enable the individual to self-evidently develop personally and creatively and participate in the formation of a rich, democratic and diversified community in Flanders’. In this regard, the Flemish government, with the Flemish Parliament Act on the Social-Cultural Work for Adults (4 April 2003), regulated its specific relationship with socio-cultural associations, educational institutions and so-called socio-cultural movements. This includes all initiatives that were previously referred to as 'folk development work' in previous regulations.

In 2017, a new Flemish Parliament Act on Socio-Cultural Work for Adults was voted in. Innovations once more resemble some elements discussed above with regards to the arts and cultural Heritage Flemish Parliament Act: a combination of multi-annual structural funding and project subsidies, a qualitative evaluation procedure and a functional approach.

Also here, traditional categorisations and definitions make way for a more flexible functional approach. Organisations choose in their applications one or more of the following functions: culture function, learning function, community function and societal movement function.

Flemish Parliament Act concerning a renewed youth and children’s rights policy

Complementary to the Flemish Parliament Act concerning Socio-Cultural Work for Adults, this Flemish Parliament Act (voted 20 January 2012) supports youth organisations and movements via diverse instruments, a.o. the installation of a Youth Council and subsidies for youth organisations working on the Flemish level.

The Local Cultural Policy Flemish Parliament Act

Flemish Parliament Act concerning the Stimulation of a Qualitative and Integrated Local Cultural Policy was adopted on 6 July 2012 and amended in 2014.

The Flemish Parliament Act of 2012 replaced a Flemish Parliament Act of 2001. With this Flemish Parliament Act on Local Cultural Policy of 2001, the Flemish government aimed to stimulate an integral local cultural policy. Local authorities were assigned a large role in policymaking and are responsible for their cultural policy. Municipalities received financial support from the Flemish government (see chapter 8.4.2). The Flemish Parliament Act included obligations in the areas of participation and consultation (cultural council) and public libraries.

As an effect of another Flemish Parliament Act (Planlastendecreet), which drastically downsized Flemish policy planning demands towards local governments, some changes needed to be made to this Flemish Parliament Act on Local Cultural Policy. On 6 July 2012, a new Flemish Parliament Act was voted in. This Flemish Parliament Act continued to regulate Flemish subsidies to cultural centres, municipal libraries and local cultural policy development, with only few remarkable changes.

Recently however, there was a fundamental shift: as of 2016, the scope of the Flemish Parliament Act of 2012 has been limited greatly, as the result of a policy decision to decentralise local cultural policy and grant more autonomy to cities and municipalities (see chapter 7.1).

However, the Flemish Parliament Act on Local Cultural Policy does not disappear completely. For now, for the municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region and for the facility districts in the Flemish municipalities neighbouring Brussels, the current scheme remains in force.

Flemish Parliament Act on the Amateur Arts

An estimated one in three Flemish people (aged between 14 and 75) practice a creative leisure time: music, singing, theater, dance, visual arts, writing, film, photography ... sometimes even a combination of one or more arts disciplines. The Flemish Parliament Act on the Amateur Arts of 22 December 2000 regulates everything that is happening in this sector.

In concrete terms, "amateur arts" means the following disciplines: theater, dance, visual arts (film, photography, video (image) and painting and sculpture), music (this includes instrumental and vocal music, light music, folk music and jazz) and literature. Each of these (sub) disciplines is coordinated by an organization, subsidized by the Flemish government. Together they reach out to over 6 000 local initiatives. The Amateur Arts Forum (Forum voor Amateurkunsten) offers since 2006 support, training and visibility.

Furthermore, there is the possibility of subsidizing international projects and new disciplines.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

  • Decree of 24 October 2008 determining the conditions of subsidizing employment in the socio-cultural sectors of the French Community

German-speaking Community

The cultural policy is currently based on various sets of rules (Decrees, Orders of the government, Circulars). The German-speaking Community has set itself the goal of renewing this legislation taking account of certain principles, such as considering a specific sector as a whole, consolidating individual sets of rules in an overall text and simplifying administrative processes.

Chapter published: 16-01-2018

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